Warning: This article will contain light spoilers for the original Alan Wake.

“The unanswered mystery is what stays with us the longest and is what we’ll remember in the end.” – Alan Wake. When I first played Alan Wake back in 2010 as a pack-in with my Xbox 360, I had no idea what the game was or who Remedy Entertainment was. It wasn’t until much, much later, when I and many others viewed the game as a cult classic, that I even dared consider that we could one day return to the shadowy streets of Bright Falls. Now, after thirteen long years, the Twin Peaks-inspired world of Alan Wake has finally returned with a new coat of paint and many answers to the once-shrouded mysteries. It’s been a long road with many twists and turns for the studio and this series. Still, even in a year of absolutely unprecedented releases, Alan Wake 2 looks to stand among the greats as one of the finest and most exciting experiences of the year.

Returning to a Larger World

At the time of writing, I’m about 10 hours into the game and, while it’s completely unknown to me, it feels like I’m still scratching the surface. Alan Wake 2 picks up thirteen years after the events of the original game and follows the parallel stories of Saga Anderson, an FBI detective investigating a series of ritualistic murders, and, of course, Alan Wake himself as he fights to escape The Dark Place. A lot has changed since we left our snarky writer trapped and alone, from presentation to genre, even the overall universe the game exists in has been expanded beyond anyone’s expectations back in 2010. Where the original game was more of a linear 3rd Person Action Adventure title, Alan Wake 2 takes a leap into the Survival Horror genre with all the staple traits that come with it. Going further, the game takes place in Remedy’s new shared universe with light nods to full elements taken from Max Payne, Quantum Break, and Control throughout. Alan Wake 2 is the culmination of Remedy’s work thus far and uses their decade-plus of experience to elevate the once simple game into a well-deserved return. For those interested in the game, I will say I can’t see this experience being nearly as enjoyable without playing at least the original game first but I’ll leave that to your own discretion.

Survive the Horrors

One of the biggest changes from the original to its sequel is the move to a true Survival Horror gameplay experience. Limited supplies, expansive and explorable locations, and hulking monstrosities, the many hallmarks of the genre, are all here as Alan Wake 2 looks to enter the pantheon alongside the likes of Resident Evil and Dead Space. While the game takes over a full chapter to ramp into the survival horror elements, once it does, the addicting and tense gameplay loop really feels at home with the story and atmosphere. Gameplay was the one thing always at odds with the original Alan Wake and, now, it’s truly one of my favorite aspects of the sequel. What often sets Survival Horror apart from Horror or any other genre is the tension that comes from using a limited amount of tools to overcome the inherent feeling of vulnerability of horror. In a true horror game, you’re often defenseless, traversing and hiding without much agency as you’re hunted by something unspeakable. In Alan Wake 2, it feels like you always have the tools for the job and it’s up to you to overcome the challenge.

Similar but revamped, your flashlight now has charges that can be used to remove the “dark shield” around a Taken, increasing your damage, rather than being required to make them vulnerable. This shield regenerates on enemies, incentivizing you to focus one down while avoiding being overwhelmed in groups. Enemies can be spongy, forcing every one of your limited pistol and shotgun rounds to count. Compared to Resident Evil 4 Remake, released earlier this year, it’s a less arcady and more deliberate combat system and Remedy’s best gunplay yet. Following other entries in the genre, the game utilizes semi-open maps that encourage exploration and backtracking. Genre staples such as keys and special items help unlock more sections of the map to find new gear or world-building collectibles along your journey. To this end, while the game is broken up into chapters, you have a lot of room to return to old locations to pick the place clean, contributing to the game’s expected 25-hour run-time. Alan Wake 2, even when released in the same year as some of the genre’s best remakes, stands firmly as an excellent, well-designed Survival Horror game.

More Surreal than Scary

One aspect of Alan Wake 2 that surprised me is despite its dark and surreal atmosphere, the game isn’t trying to scare you. In my time thus far, the game has subverted my expectations of common horror tropes to instead focus on its mood and atmosphere. That is not to say the game doesn’t have an occasional fright or bout of suspense, no, it’s just that it doesn’t forcibly go out of its way for the sake of the scare. It expects you to get engrossed in its world until you become the very victim of the horrors on display without the need for forced jumpscares or manipulating you into bad situations. Instead, Alan Wake 2 relies on the natural horror of the story it’s telling. I often anticipate obvious enemy placements that other games would utilize to find they aren’t there and that sense of relief helps push me to the next moment where I inevitably get caught off guard by something else. Whether by design or a stroke of luck, fear in Alan Wake 2 comes off as natural rather than forced, making it a very palatable experience for someone like me, a wimp who likes the idea of horror but can never stomach it.

Remedy at its Finest

Ever since Control was released back in 2019, Remedy has continued to elevate itself to new heights. So far, Alan Wake 2 is the culmination of the last 13 years of Remedy’s work and their identity since the original game. It’s an evolution of Control’s style and lore-building with a reimaging of Alan Wake’s gameplay and story. What once felt like a really great attempt at a “Twin Peaks” style adventure has now been fully realized and expanded upon in every way. Detective work, mysterious cults, supernatural phenomena, and, of course, good old-fashioned coffee are all here to warm the heart. Discovering manuscript pages of events before they occur is still just as chilling as ever before. So far, the game has not disappointed and I have no reason to believe that will change as I push forward. Alan Wake 2 looks to show Remedy sharpened to its finest point and will hopefully mark them as some of the industry’s finest.